Clinton, Lavrov Expect START Successor in 2009

(Mar. 9) -Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed strategic arms control at their Friday meeting in Geneva (Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images).
(Mar. 9) -Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed strategic arms control at their Friday meeting in Geneva (Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images).

The United States and Russia plan to finalize a successor to a key arms control treaty this year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday (see GSN, March 6).

"We intend to have an agreement by the end of the year," she said, adding that the sides would prepare an agenda for negotiating a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty follow-on agreement before the U.S. and Russian presidents meet in London next month, the Associated Press reported (Associated Press/Google News, March 6).

"We will do everything to have this agreement reached. This treaty, the present treaty, has become obsolete," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said (U.S. State Department release, March 6).

On Saturday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev welcomed the opportunities for the sides to pursue nuclear disarmament initiatives, Interfax reported.

"I would like to emphasize that Russia is open to dialogue and is prepared for negotiations with the new American administration. I fully share U.S. President Barack Obama's commitment to the noble goal of sparing the world of the nuclear threat and see it as a rewarding area for joint work," Medvedev said in a statement. "Constructive interaction in this area would help make Russian-U.S. relations healthier in general (Interfax, March 7).

The sides will have to overcome numerous disagreements to close a new deal, one high-level Russian foreign official noted.

"The talks will be very, very difficult," said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Koshelev. "To have a new document on Dec. 5," the current treaty's expiration date, "above all it is necessary to have a clear change in the climate of Russian-U.S. relations," he said.

Moscow previously called for arms control talks to address missile defense disagreements, but former President George W. Bush rejected the proposal (see related GSN story, today).

"The Russian side will insist that these questions of the interdependence of missile defense ... and the questions of strategic arms reduction must be addressed in the new document," Koshelev said.

"The U.S. needs to take more seriously Russian concerns regarding future [missile defense] systems, especially those close to Russian territory," said Edward Ifft, a former U.S. diplomat who participated in START negotiations.

"For its part ... Russia needs to recognize more fully U.S. concerns regarding terrorism and rogue states, and this includes understanding U.S. views on missile defenses," said Ifft, now a Georgetown University professor (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, March 8).

Lavrov called Saturday for the new treaty to limit intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and nuclear-capable bomber aircraft possessed by each side (United Nations release, March 7).

The sides might also clash over a potential monitoring system for verifying reductions. Clinton discussed the verification issue with Lavrov on Friday, she said.

Despite various obstacles that negotiators would face, they are more likely to succeed under the new U.S. presidential administration, said Roland Timerbaev, a former Russian diplomat who took part in arms control negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

"The last few years were the worst in terms of arms control for the entire postwar period," he said. "It cannot get worse. It can only get better" (AFP).

March 9, 2009
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The United States and Russia plan to finalize a successor to a key arms control treaty this year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday (see GSN, March 6).